Christine Smith says it was through media reports on Tuesday that she learned she was fired from her position as the city’s manager.
In an interview at around noon today, Smith said people had approached her late Tuesday afternoon with questions about the job termination.
It was then she found media reports stating she had been fired.
At 5:10 p.m. Tuesday, the city released a statement announcing it had “revoked the appointment of Christine Smith as city manager, effective immediately.”
An update to the release this morning made it clear the firing was “without cause.”
The announcement followed a 5 p.m. special meeting of council where members had made the decision to revoke her appointment as city manager.
Prior to that, though, Smith said she received a letter, that’s now with her lawyer, on March 8 – International Women’s Day – indicating she would be losing her job.
Knowing there are specific mechanisms in place that have to be followed, she said she wanted to know what clause in the city manager bylaw would be used in terminating her title with the city.
In the nearly three years she had been with the city, she had not received any negative performance review nor been under any disciplinary action, she said.
Section 35(5) of the city manager bylaw allows the city to fire its manager “on a without-cause basis.”
Under that clause, the city must either provide six months’ notice for the first year of employment followed by a further two weeks for each completed year following or, as it will do in this case, provide pay-in-lieu equal to that amount.
“All of the city’s obligations related to the employment of the city manager and this bylaw are fully discharged and the rights of the city manager fully and fairly satisfied upon the city providing the notice or pay in lieu of notice pursuant to this provision,” the section notes.
In July 2015, council approved an increase to the city manager salary that set the pay range for the position at between $175,000 to $190,000 annually, with Smith’s salary approved to rise from $175,000 at that time to $180,000.
This morning, Smith said much of her work has focused on helping the city find ways to be more efficient. She praised city staff for their work and support to move those efforts forward.
She had been working on a plan for reorganization that would have helped save the city thousands of dollars that she will now be unable to move forward with, she said.
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve council,” Smith commented, stressing her passion for public service.
In her time with the city, Smith said, she’s proud of her work towards aligning the city’s strategic planning with the work of council and city staff.
Efforts have seen the city become more “self-aware” and move toward looking five years into the future, she said.
She would have liked to see that grow into longer-term 10- and 20- year visions, she added.
Work on asset management as well as making the city move toward a more lean (a management philosophy developed by vehicle maker Toyota) operation are also underway, she said.
“Those mechanisms we started to apply,” she said, adding she believes city staff will carry those ideas and their own good ideas forward.
Smith went on to comment: “I did my utmost for the city.”
As for whether she has any regrets, Smith said she sees things that perhaps don’t go quite right “as an opportunity” to learn.
Whenever an issue came forward, many times from citizens, she worked to address the issue.
“I love problem-solving,” she said.
Smith could not comment on the specifics of two firings made less than a year into her role which made headlines.
She noted that dismissing employees is “one of the hardest things to do.”
Anything that’s human resources-related is always extremely difficult, she said.
Rob Fendrick, now a city councillor who was elected in the October 2015 municipal election, was fired from his position as the director of corporate services.
Brian Crist was fired as the director of infrastructure and operations.
Smith confirmed at that time the firings were “completely without cause”, but within her authority to do.
At the time, she also described both former city employees as “excellent people” and, in a letter to city staff stated they had “provided long-standing service to the city ....”
The firings spurred then-city councillor Kirk Cameron to resign from council, stating it was a “necessary statement” he had to make.
Smith took on the position in April 2014 after former city manager Stan Westby had been fired in September 2013.
He had been off the job since the previous April, first on a suspension and then medical leave, before being fired.
In taking on the role, Smith said, she was looking forward to the opportunity for “more focused” work directly in the community she lives in.
Smith came to the city after a five-year stint with the Yukon government as the territory's director of community affairs, a role that saw her work with municipalities throughout the Yukon.
She had previously worked as a senior planner with the territory’s development assessment branch and, before that, as a biologist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
While she continues looking at her options moving forward, she noted she has completed her MBA and there’s a possibility of management consulting in the future.
“That’s always an option,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city is saying little today about the sudden firing of its top official.
Tuesday’s press release notes that Linda Rapp, the city’s director of community and recreation services, will serve as acting city manager until council makes the appointment on an interim basis while recruitment is underway for the full-time role.
“City council is confident that administration will continue to maintain city operations and deliver all services to our citizens and deliver all services to our citizens,” Mayor Dan Curtis said in the statement.
“Recruitment of a new city manager will commence in a timely and efficient manner.”
The release then notes: “As this is a human resources matter, the city will not be commenting further.”
He could not be contacted today for a phone interview.
City spokeswoman Jessica Apolloni said this morning council met during a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday and made the decision to revoke Smith’s appointment.
The city is not providing an exact figure on how much Smith will receive in severance pay.
However, Apolloni said the city’s legal team has confirmed that section 35(5) of the city manager bylaw states, “she is entitled, in lieu of notice, to six months’ base salary for her first year of employment and thereafter two additional weeks of base salary for each completed year of employment.”